Wolves in position to shape draft
Putting the Timberwolves in charge of their own pick in the first round of the NBA draft is challenging enough. Flipping them the keys for what happens through the rest of the lottery selections, the entire first round or 58 of the 60 picks overall could be an adventure.
Sitting at No. 3 -- after Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley, the consensus choices for Nos. 1-2, go in some order -- what the Wolves do at that juncture could affect all the teams lining up behind them, at least through any alleged second tier, the size of which changes according to the club or expert doing the projecting.
So vice president Kevin McHale and the merry men in his front office -- seven guys, McHale has said, are involved in the major personnel decisions in Minnesota -- will play a role in what Seattle's Sam Presti, Memphis' Chris Wallace, New York's Donnie Walsh and the rest do with their own lottery picks. All those astute basketball men will be on edge, waiting, wondering, crossing their fingers and hoping, maybe holding their breath and cringing -- basically, experiencing the draft the way many Wolves fans have through the years.
It hasn't been all bad. Randy Foye (the team's top pick in 2006) still has a world of promise in Minnesota's backcourt. Corey Brewer (its 2007 selection) could be dynamite if he ever finds his shot and builds his arm and leg muscles to the size of your average librarian's. Then there is Kevin Garnett, McHale's long shot that paid off for both their current and former teams.
But there have been missteps along the way, decisions that went awry in the months after the draft or looked bad in its immediate aftermath and stayed bad. Ndudi Ebi, a stab at a Garnett redo in 2003, left Kendrick Perkins, Leandro Barbosa and Josh Howard on the board. In 1999, Wally Szczerbiak could have been Richard Hamilton, Andre Miller or Shawn Marion, and William Avery could have been Ron Artest or James Posey. Two years ago, the Wolves actually had Brandon Roy, the 2006-07 Rookie of the Year, under their ball cap for a few minutes before getting too cagey and greedy for their own good; they swapped him to Portland for Foye, the lower salary slot for the No. 7 rather than No. 6 pick, and an extra $1 million.
Come to think of it, maybe Mssrs. Presti, Wallace, Walsh and the rest have nothing to worry about after all. Minnesota's decision-making, for those drafting later, frequently has been a gift that keeps on giving.
Still, no one will know the specific outcome, much less the long-term ramifications, until the Wolves act. Do something. Deem this prospect or that as worthy of No. 3 status or deal the pick for some package of established players, later selections and cash.
This assumes that Rose and Beasley indeed play out as the first two players chosen. So far, according to the mock drafts and the league pipeline, that hasn't changed; that noise you hear out of Miami is simply Heat president Pat Riley, a Type-A, proactive sort of guy, wrestling with the fact that his team's draft fate at No. 2 is held by Bulls general manager John Paxson at No. 1. Neither McHale nor Wolves assistant GM Fred Hoiberg expects either Rose or Beasley to still be available by the time their team goes on the clock Thursday.
That's why they have focused on the next cluster of players, a second tier that they saw initially as eight deep but now, after extensive research and live workouts, have whittled down to four.
"We're down to, like, four guys who we really like a lot,'' McHale said. "Any one of those four guys, we'd be really excited about. You might go right into Thursday, really liking guys and then talking about a lot of different stuff. We'll see.''
Which four guys? The Wolves aren't saying. But a few glances at most of the mocks, the list of players they already have brought to the Twin Cities, the names of guys who might be visiting a day or two before the draft and a peek at Hoiberg's most recent itinerary provide some clues.
Stanford's Brook Lopez, UCLA's Kevin Love, Ohio State's Kosta Koufos and Kansas' Brandon Rush already have worked out at Target Center. Hoiberg said Wednesday that the club is dickering to get Indiana's Eric Gordon and West Virginia's Joe Alexander into town next week. Arizona's Jerryd Bayless is another player the Wolves would like to work out.
On Friday, Hoiberg and a crew of evaluators were scheduled to fly to Los Angeles to check out Italian import Danilo Gallinari, UCLA's Russell Westbrook and Lopez again. After another Friday flight, this one to Chicago, the Wolves were lined up as one of seven teams invited to a special workout of USC's O.J. Mayo.
"That's kind of the way things are now, making you come see him. Inivitation-only,'' Hoiberg said. "It's coming from the agent on most of these things.'' Mayo these days is represented by Leon Rose, after his split with Bill Duffy's agency.
Here is Hoiberg on a few of the above players:
Mayo: "We've been doing a lot of background work on him. I played for [Trojans coach] Tim Floyd at Iowa State and with the Bulls for a year and a half. I would hope that he would tell me the truth on everything with O.J. We know a lot of people who have been around him throughout his life. We're just trying to put as much information [together] as we can and then have a chance to sit in front of him and hopefully have him answer some questions that we have about him. We've seen him play enough, we've seen him play live a lot of times. We've seen him play almost every game on tape.
"People have questions whether he's going to be a point guard in this league. He will be able to play some point. I don't think he's going to be an exclusive point guard. But I do think he can get you into some basic sets. The real thing he can do is space the court. His shooting stroke is beautiful. His range will equate to the NBA [three-point] line. From talking to people, he is the ultimate competitor. The kid wants to win every drill. .. We feel that he's a guy we're very seriously going to look at, at the third pick.''
Love: "His passing just makes people so much better. You could put him at the high post. He would be a great high-low feeder with Al [Jefferson]. His ability to take one step out of bounds, fall backward and, Dan Marino-like, put [the outlet pass] right on the numbers is phenomenal. He makes up for his size [6-foot-9] with his basketball IQ and his smarts.''
Gallinari: "The intriguing thing is he grew up as a point guard and, a couple of years ago, he shot up five inches. The great thing about him is how versatile he is. He handles the ball, he's still got those point-guard skills, he can go with the right or left hand. He's got a beautiful shooting stroke. He's going to be a mismatch nightmare on the offensive end. He can take guys off the dribble and with his ability to shoot the ball, people are going to have to play him honest and stay up on him. He will live at the free-throw line.''
Much has changed in the Minnesota front office, and international scouting department, since the team imported Gundars Vetra for 89 unwatchable minutes in 1992, had Andres Guibert mocked as the "Cuban Big Dog'' a year later and fell in love with Australia's Shane Heal from a pre-Olympic game in 1996. Rasho Nesterovic was a solid choice deep into the 1998 first round. But let's not forget Igor Rakocevic, either, an overmatched second-rounder from 2000. Might that track record argue against an overseas choice?
"Our European guys have been following [Gallinari] since a pretty early age,'' Hoiberg said. "We have a pretty good read on him. We've all seen him play live.''
All of which means ... what? That those players are among the four Minnesota is considering with the No. 3 pick? That they are guys the Wolves want teams to think they're considering, as a smoke screen? Or that they are players Minnesota would be glad to have from a spot or three down in the draft, hoping to generate enough leverage to trade the pick for another, with a few side benefits thrown in?
In terms of need, Minnesota ought to be looking for a legitimate point guard or a center who could relieve Jefferson of that role. It already has shooting guards such as Foye (a "combo'' it would like to use at point), Brewer and Rashad McCants. But the best talent at No. 3 might overlap what it already has, suggesting a possible move.
"We've got offers,'' McHale said Wednesday. "I would tell you there's not an offer I'd do today. I think if we do anything, I think it would be that night. It depends on what happens in front of us, too -- there are a lot of strange things happening in this draft.
"It's like anybody out there who has bought a house. They usually don't come out with their highest offer right away, they kind of wait for the deadline. You talk about it. You set the table. We've been talking with these teams for a month now.
"You say, 'We'd consider this or that,' and they say, 'Aw, we would never do that.' We'll see. When they tell you they would never do that on Thursday at 5 o'clock, they're pretty serious. That's when a lot of those deals get done.''
Eager rival GMs could drive up the value of that No. 3 pick, fast-tracking McHale's rebuilding efforts a little more. Then again, based on past performance, eager rival GMs might want to sit back, rub their hands together and lust for any guy Minnesota doesn't choose. By definition, he ought to be pretty good.
Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005. His new book, The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Minnesota Twins, can be ordered here.